Water Flows to the Top of Donors’ Minds Thanks to Social Media

In recent years, charities that support clean water have seen a major boost in support. According to this USA Today article, causes for clean water are now competing with major, more traditional international aid requests such as fighting hunger or preventing HIV/AIDS. The reasons, according to the article, are three-fold: more churchgoers have the means to travel to the parts of the world where water is an issue, more celebrities are joining clean water causes, and the rise of social media as a fundraising tool.

For the purposes of this blogging community, I’d like to dive a little deeper into that third driver of water charities’ success – social media. To do so, I interviewed a friend and fellow social media philanthropist, Erica Hanna. Offering her photography services in exchange for donations, Erica was able to raise more than $11,000 online in just a couple months for clean water through a charity: water microphilanthropy page. The following is the Q and A session we had over email…

Erica Hanna - Online Fundraiser for Clean Water

Question: You’ve run an incredibly successful fundraising campaign for Charity: Water with social media at its core. Tell us more about how you were able to raise so much money in so little time. How did social media assist your efforts? 

Answer: I decided to raise money for a well in Africa for my 29th birthday. After reading more about the Haiti earthquake and the need for basic water, I just felt it would be ignorant for me to stand by, living such a privileged life, not doing a thing while others died because their drinking water was either contaminated or non-existent. To be honest, guilt was my catalyst at first.

Social Media and photography were the foundations of my campaign. I offered my photography services for a very minimal donation and took simple avatar photos (a.k.a. profile pictures) for folks. I didn’t make any money off of the photography during my campaign.

One thing I didn’t expect, was that the donations multiplied once people started posting their new photos on twitter. Why? Well, as adults, I believe it’s tough for us to justify spending money on ourselves…especially headshots, which some people would consider “vain.” When social media junkies found out the proceeds were going to charity, I think it made it more acceptable in their eyes to treat themselves, because it was no longer about THEM, it was about helping others.

Q: How much does social media play into the recent fundraising success of water charities?

A: I think it depends on the demographic you’re talking about. Obviously in my case, it played a huge role. 80% of my donors during my charity: water birthday campaign, were folks I didn’t even know before social media. But, I’ve had friends raise money for the same organization and still see success (even raising more than I did), by hosting other fundraisers, pool parties, events, etc. I do find social media helped my campaign snowball, though. Once one person was involved and heard about how easy it was, it seemed like everyone caught the bug. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever witnessed.

Q: How did you become interested in supporting water-related charities?

A: Growing up, my father was the assistant superientendant of our city water department. As a kid he would take me to the plant, and explain how everything worked. We’d drink straight from the pipes, right after the water had been treated. I thought I was soooo cool, since I had the inside scoop. Then, a few years ago my grandma suggested we each choose a charity for Christmas to give to, instead of exchanging gifts. She encouraged us to pick an organization we hadn’t worked with before. So, being a big Kiva supporter, I simply googled, “charities like kiva.” The charity: water video featuring Beck popped up and I fell in love. This may sound trite, but as someone who works in marketing, it was their amazing sense of detail, simplicity, and branding that drew me in. They knew what they were doing, and they were the first charity I recognized as turning giving into something that “looked cool.” Immediately I wanted to know more about the organization and how I could help, because I identified with their branding style and feel. Since the start, I’ve been involved with other efforts, including being part of a group of former fundraisers acting as a focus group for the outreach team. It’s been so fun!

Q: What advice would you have for individuals who would like to raise money the way you did with Charity: Water? 

A: No matter what your cause, live it. You need to choose something you completely love. I know it may sound like a no-brainer, but folks can tell if you are passionate about it or not. It’s the power of attraction. If you love something with your whole heart and want to help, others who feel the same way about the cause will find you, and together you can do amazing things. People will help you, because they see how happy it makes you. Share your joy, and watch the generosity pour in.

Q: What advice would you have for fundraising organizations who would like to emulate the success of water charities?

A: Keep it simple. Tell me where my money is going. Show me how I’ve helped and I’m more likely to give again, over and over. Also, if folks have proof that what they’ve done has made an impact, they brag about it. Which means, more eyes on the organization and more potential fans and champions for your cause. Make it easy to donate with credit cards/debit cards. The more hoops someone has to jump through, the lesser the chance that they’ll follow through. Lastly, engage with your fundraisers. Ask them questions. I remember vividly – after the end of my campaign – Paull Young from charity: water called me. We talked forever about ideas, how the organization could improve, what I thought they did well, what I would change about my campaign, etc…it really felt like he cared, and the outreach made me a fan for life.

Do you want to help Erica reach a new goal? As part of a weight-loss plan, she’s asking donors to make a gift to charity: water for every pound she drops. Found out more about Erica’s new campaign here.

For more on social media in philanthropy, visit BWF.com.

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